The idea of having a Talk Tent was born out of the perception that there was no forum that I knew off, for the Talk Artists in Trinidad & Tobago during the Carnival season. No place where they could be heard performing their work, apart from the few who worked as Emcees at the Calypso Tents.
One often heard the words “oral traditions” being bandied around, yet one had to walk far and look hard, to find any of our famous Midnight Robbers or Pierrot Grenades, not to mention a Tobago Speech Band, during the Carnival season or any other time of year for that matter.
The Steelbands had Panorama, the Calypso had the Tents, the Mas-men had the Costume Bands and somewhere in- between them all were the “men of words”, swallowed up by the occasion The Comics, Comedians, Humorists, Storytellers, Rapso Poets, Dub Artists, Robbers, Pierrots, Black Indians, Red Indians, Speech Band, all the talkers, were somehow lost in the landscape of Carnival. Yet to hear it told, they were a “vital part of our Caribbean heritage”.
So I thought, wouldn’t it be a great idea to have a place where you could go to hear a Midnight Robber, or a Pierrot, or one of the Emcees you hear so much of in the Calypso Tent but never see in full flight? The Calypsonians have their Calypso Tent, so why don’t the Talkers have their own “Talk Tent”?
So I decided to organize just such a tent and call it “Talkie Talkie” Trinidad’s only Talk Tent and to pattern it after the traditional Calypso Tent, except that I would reverse the roles. Whereas in the Calypso Tent the Calypsonians sing and the Emcees talk, in the Talk Tent the opposite would happen, the “Calypsonians” would talk and the Emcees would sing. We would establish a “Singing Emcee.”
This called for an emcee who was an expert at the art of Extempore, of making up verses on the spot and who was capable of accompanying himself on his own instrument. Because the Talk Tent had to be something that could be put on almost anywhere, without the fuss and bother and paraphernalia of a back-up band. We even had three back-up laughers, like back-up singers, in case the jokes did not work. But we abandoned that idea after the first two shows, because the back-up laughers became more of a distraction than anything else. It is not easy to give a false laugh without overdoing it a bit.
So the first Talk Tent was held in Jan.1983. At that time theatre Producer/Director Helen Camps had erected a tent at number 10 Victoria Ave, Newtown, Port of Spain, to run her Tent Theatre, where she was producing the Carnival show “J’Ouvert” of which I was a part. She willingly agreed to let us use the tent on their nights-off to produce the Talk Tent and so we had our opening night under canvas.
It was a huge success and a great experience for both the audience and the artists. The artists quickly learned that the Talk Tent audience was quite different to that of the Calypso Tent and that material, continuity and performance were the keys to success. The audience quickly learned to compare and analyze what was being presented to them and to recognize the differences and styles. And that is what the Talk Tent is all about, a platform to highlight the varying styles within the Oral Traditions, that’s why today its motto is “WHERE TALK IS ART.”